Silenced Song

hand holding microphone

DOUBT YOU WILL ever sing again.”

Those seven words reverberated within my mind, taunting me. The specialist at UCLA left me alone in the examining room with tears filling my eyes, stunned by his matter-of-fact statement.

A silent question arose in my tormented heart: Is this because of sin in my life? Then an immediate peace calmed my soul as if I’d been soothed by a loving father’s hug. I was not being disciplined. The Lord’s voice whispered, Trust Me even though you’re frightened.

I had expressed myself through singing since childhood. During college, while studying on a voice scholarship, I sang in nightclubs. When I became a Christian at 23, I proclaimed my love for Jesus through music. Later on, I worked songs into my speaking presentations. This ministry began shortly before I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Then one Sunday morning, I awoke with my voice distorted beyond recognition. My husband, Ray, could not understand me! It sounded like I was on a respirator. Three doctors concurred that the MS was attacking nerves in my brain, affecting my speech. Ray learned lip-reading and fine-tuned his listening.

Answering the phone was difficult. If people understood me, they asked why I was depressed or crying. Shopping was the worst. Clerks craned their necks to hear me, and then quickly looked away when I tried to speak. I felt two inches tall. Lord, how do I bring You praise when I am like this?

With each struggle, I turned to God. I prayed: Lord, I don’t know why my voice must be like this, but I know You have allowed it. As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 exhorts, “In everything” I will “give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning [me].” Teach Me what I need to learn.

One day, this offering of praise flowed from my pen:

My voice

not really mine at all.

It’s Yours to use—soaring in song or silenced for Your purpose.

May the silence please You praise You

bring You glory.

Even as embarrassed

as I feel at times

I remember

I want to let You shine.

That offering—my sacrifice of praise in the midst of my sorrow—was honored in such a special way, I knew only God could have planned it. The University of California Irvine’s Department of Drama was preparing the play Duet for One—about Jacqueline du Pré, a famous cellist whose career ended because of MS. Four actors desired to interview someone who had experienced loss due to the disease.

After talking for only a few minutes about my inability to speak and sing, one asked, “Why aren’t you angry or depressed?”

Silently, I thanked God for ordaining that moment. Although I slurred my once-clear words, spoke in a monotone where my voice used to rise and fall naturally, and could only whisper, what I said came through with clarity and power.

“Because I have a relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ, I am not angry or depressed,” I said. “I know He loved me enough to die for me. Since He did that, I know His love won’t allow anything to happen to me that He can’t somehow use for my good.

“The Bible promises, ‘God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose’ (Rom. 8:28 NASB). I’m not saying I don’t feel sad and grieve the loss of my voice. But God has proven Himself to me through other difficult experiences. He is trustworthy.”

I counted it an enormous privilege to share about Jesus, and it happened because of my loss.

Nine months after the MS attack on my speech began, I still didn’t know if I would ever serve God as I had in the past. My neurologist did not hold out much hope. Then one weekend, Ray and I drove to the California Sierras to ski. With the use of outriggers (short skis attached to crutches for balance and braking), I thrill to swish down the slopes. Gratitude for the strength to enjoy this sport in His magnificent creation overwhelms me, and I grin from ear to ear. Skiing, for me, is an act of praise.

As we rode the lift, I leaned over to Ray, hoping he could hear me. “I’m so excited to be skiing again!” My mouth dropped wide open in amazement—my voice was clear!

All day I kept asking Ray, “Do you hear that? My voice is normal!” My brain had stopped telling the vocal chords to spasm— and did I ever praise God as I skied!

It thrilled me to speak normally and sing again. But what if the Lord had not blessed me with the return of my voice? Would I have continued to praise Him?

I believe I can heartily answer, yes. I knew a joy during those months that is experienced during suffering and loss. It emanates from “peace which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7 NIV) that says “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and He is in control. He can be trusted. As Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21 NIV).

Shortly after my voice cleared, I received word that two of my writing projects were successful. God had blessed the time spent without singing by praising Him through a new means—writing. Now I speak, sing, and write for His glory.

Jo Franz is an inspirational speaker, singer, and writer who lives in Portland, Oregon. She tells her story in her book, Soar Unafraid.

From November 2015 issue of Evangel